Mike Klein Online

Immediate Hurdles Gone, Are Georgia Special Schools on Safe Ground?

Mike Klein

After six weeks of angst, most but not all former state commission charter schools will be back in business this August now that the state Board of Education has thrown them a life preserver.

Nine schools received two-year state special school charters and two had their local district charters affirmed Tuesday morning.  Two other schools received state board approval earlier this month and two or possibly three others are not expected to open this fall.

Truth be told, there were no surprises after the state Department of Education said Monday that eleven schools would be recommended for approval.  But there was substantial relief and a sense the pressure is off just six weeks after the state Supreme Court overturned the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, tossing 16 schools and 15,000 students into educational peril.

“Their futures were settled today,” said a relieved looking state schools Superintendent John Barge.  “We’re happy,” said Stephanie Reid, board chair at the Georgia Connections Academy online learning school which expects 900 students in August.  “It’s an important hurdle,” said Georgia Charter Schools Association executive vice president Andrew Lewis.

Clearing immediate hurdles does not clear the playing field.  All sides recognize there is always the possibility that a lawsuit could be filed to challenge the legality of state special charter schools.  “At this point our legal folks feel confident that we are on safe grounds,” Barge said.

The state special charters authorized on Tuesday are designed to bridge the next two school years that begin in August and end in May 2013.  Several other next steps will seek to clarify the authorization and funding steps for future charter schools that do not have local authorization.

First, the General Assembly is expected to consider placing a constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot that would ask voters to override the Supreme Court decision.  The net result would be to legitimize a state commission that could authorize charter schools and allow local property tax dollars to follow the pupil, even if local school boards disagree with the authorization.

Second, Governor Nathan Deal’s office and the General Assembly have begun a top-to-bottom review of how the state should fund public schools.  The vehicle is a special commission created by the 2011 General Assembly. The bill that created the commission calls for a two-year study, but some legislators would like to finish sooner.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will help.

All nine charter schools approved Tuesday will receive between $2,700 to $4,400 in state and federal dollars, but no local property tax dollars.  The same is true for the Georgia Cyber Academy / Odyssey School combination which the board approved a couple weeks ago.

The state board also affirmed local school district charters granted by Gwinnett County to Ivy Preparatory Academy and by DeKalb County to The Museum School of Avondale Estates.  Those two schools are eligible for state and federal dollars, and also local property tax dollars.  Ivy Prep originally rejected Gwinnett’s charter before later deciding to accept it.

“The bottom line for us was we wanted to make a decision that was in the best interests of the kids,” said Christopher Kunney, who is vice chairman of the Ivy Preparatory Academy board.  “Regardless of the history with Gwinnett, regardless of what was pending or not pending or proposed, we had to think about opening a school in the fall.”

State brick-and-mortar special charter schools approved Tuesday are Atlanta Heights Charter in Atlanta, Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology in Statesboro, Cherokee Charter in Canton, Coweta Charter in Senoia, Fulton Leadership in Atlanta, Heritage Preparatory in Atlanta and Pataula Charter in Edison.  Two digital online learning schools were approved, Georgia Connections Academy and Provost Academy.

Chattahoochee Hills Charter in south Fulton decided it will not try to open in August.  Peachtree Hope Charter in DeKalb County recently split ways with its education management partner and Peachtree will need to submit a new application to the state board, possibly next month.

Tuesday’s meeting was also the symbolic last breath for the Georgia Charter Schools Commission that will officially fade to black on Thursday when the state fiscal year ends.  Mark Peevy, the outgoing and only executive director, has been trying to place four staff members into other state positions. Peevy said he does not have anything new lined up for himself.

There was no cake, but there were many folks saying thanks.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 28, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Attorney General Will Investigate Cherokee County School District

Mike Klein

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said Friday that his office will open an investigation into how the Cherokee County School District responded to a citizen’s request for information.

The Georgia Open Records Act should give citizens a reasonable path to request information from their local governments, including school districts.  But how open is open when a local school district tries to charge $324,608 for the information?   That happened this week when Atlanta attorney Keith Meador sent a request to the Cherokee County School District.

On Monday June 20 Meador sent a request to Cherokee County School Superintendent Frank Petruzielo.  Meador asked for documents including emails and other communications that pertain to the proposed Cherokee County Academy charter school.  The request dates were not extensive; Meador asked for communications between May 16, 2011 and June 20.

Why does this matter to anyone?  Cherokee Charter Academy is among 16 schools whose state Charter Schools Commission authorizations were overturned last month when the Georgia Supreme Court ruled the commission is unconstitutional.

Like other affected charter schools, the Academy has gone back to its local school district to request a temporary one-year authorization.  Update: In a Friday evening 4-3 vote, the Cherokee County Board of Education rejected the Academy application.

This was the Academy’s third attempt.  Cherokee’s board rejected two earlier applications but that was before the November 2010 voting that elected some members who were considered more supportive of charters.  Academy supporters have said the district encouraged teachers to oppose the charter school because it would threaten their jobs.  Meador said his request was sent because “in my opinion, these issues don’t affect the current teachers.”

Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens

The state Open Records Act requires that local governments respond to requests within three days.  The Act permits governments to recover costs for employee time and copying.  Meador received his response on Thursday June 23.

The district told Meador it would need a $324,608 check to begin work and it would take 463 days to satisfy his information request.  That would be the equivalent of seven employees working 110 eight-hour days each to recover information created over the May 16 – June 20 period.  In total, the district said it would take 6,185 hours to recover the information.

Meador has filed hundreds of similar open record act requests in more than 20 states.  “I have never in all my years gotten back that this is going to take hundreds of thousands of dollars and this will take a year and a half to get back to you, “ Meador said.  “I’ve already requested that the Attorney General’s office look into this as a non-responsive response.”

On Friday afternoon, after he reviewed the request and the district response, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens told the Foundation, “Our office will open an investigation into this matter. The response causes concern.”

Meador’s request and district response were shown to Andrew Lewis, executive vice president at the Georgia Charter Schools Association. “These are the exact type of shenanigans that charter school founders must deal with when attempting to get a school authorized,” Lewis said.  “It shows a clear need for having an authorizer other than local boards of education.”

Cherokee County Academy is trying to open as a brick-and-mortar school.  This issue was discussed last week, on Monday June 16, when school officials would not permit a CBSAtlanta television reporter to enter a scheduled public board meeting.  Some parents and teachers were also kept outside.  Here is a link to the station’s coverage of the Monday June 16 meeting.

The state Board of Education will meet next Tuesday morning to consider state special school charter applications from any former commission school that still needs authorization to open in August.  That is expected to include Cherokee now that the local school board has turned down its application for a third time.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 24, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marian Wright Edelman Tells Educators “U.S. Is Going To Miss The Boat”

Mike Klein

Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan were blunt about the failure of American education to prepare children for a brave new world when they addressed the National Charters School Conference Wednesday in Atlanta.

“The United States is going to miss the boat to lead and compete in our globalizing world because we are not preparing a majority of our children for the future,” said Edelman.  “This is a disaster.  If children cannot read in this globalizing world they are being sentenced to social and economic death.  They are being sentenced to the prison pipeline.”

“One of the most insidious things that happened in the country over the past couple decades is the dumbing down of standards for children,” said Duncan who appeared by satellite from his office in Washington, D.C.  “In far too many states, including the state that I come from, Illinois, we’ve been lying to children and lying to families, telling them they are prepared for college and careers when in fact they are nowhere near ready.”

About 2 million students attend more than 5,200 charter schools nationally.  Here in Georgia, more than 72,000 students attend 177 schools.  That is a tiny fraction of the state’s 1.65 million public school students. By comparison, the Gwinnett County public school system has about 160,000 students.

The celebration tone that existed at Tuesday morning’s opening general session was replaced by Wednesday’s reality check that whatever charter schools have accomplished, there is a long and difficult road ahead for students in all schools, charters, traditional or any other kind.  Edelman told charter educators they should take risks, plan ahead and not be deterred, adding, “The Ark was built by amateurs.  The Titanic was built by professionals.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Duncan’s presentation included one Georgia specific headline.  Responding to an audience question, he said the state cannot use Race to the Top Dollars to assist any of 16 former state commission charter schools.  “We are holding the states accountable to the plan they put in place and this was not in there,” Duncan said.

Georgia will receive $100 million annually for the next four years from the Race to the Top federal grant program.  Duncan said he has spoken with Governor Nathan Deal about the impact from last month’s Georgia Supreme Court charter schools decision.  “We’re talking through a range of different issues. Whatever we can do to help, we’re prepared to do that.”

Wednesday morning general session attendance was noticeably smaller than the 4,000 who heard former President Bill Clinton’s keynote address on Tuesday morning.  Those who did manage to find the ballroom were treated to a tour de force from Marian Wright Edelman.

“Incarceration is becoming the new American apartheid.  Poor children of color are the fodder.   As educators you must see it, understand it, sound the alarm and make sure that this threat to American unity and community stops,” said Edelman, who received a Presidential Medal of Freedom eleven years ago for her lifelong devotion to seeking rights for disadvantaged people.

Marian Wright Edelman

“We have got to stop the growing criminalization of children at younger and younger ages,” Edelman said.  “Schools are a major feeder system into the cradle-to-prison pipeline.  We’ve got to challenge low expectations, poor quality education in charters and traditional public schools. Children are entitled to a quality education wherever they are.”

Nationally, Edelman said one child drops out of school every 11 seconds on school days and one child is born into poverty every 32 seconds.  A majority of children in all racial and income demographics cannot read or compute proficiently in 4th, 8th and 12th grades.  She said that disturbing percentage grows to 80% for Latinos and blacks who have not already dropped out.

“Education is the civil rights issue, the human rights issue of this time,” Edelman said.  “We’ve all got to be mindful of the responsibilities that we have to get it right, to do it right because so much is at stake.”  Edelman noted that state governments spend on average three times more per prisoner than per public school student.  “I can’t think of a dumber investment policy.”

The conference will end Thursday with a late morning rally outside the Georgia State Capitol.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 22, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

After Supreme Court: “How We Answer Will Define Us For Generations”

Mike Klein

Georgia became the national battleground over charter public schools alternative authorization last month when the state Supreme Court ruled the three-year-old charter schools commission is unconstitutional.  So it was not surprising that there very pointed references to that decision Tuesday when the 2011 National Charters School Conference opened in Atlanta.

“Fifteen thousand students have been left in limbo by a dreadful decision from the Georgia Supreme Court,” said National Alliance for Public Charter Schools President Peter Groff.  “How we answer will define us for generations.”  Groff invoked the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he called for a “next generation of high quality schools fueled by technology.”

Moments earlier, and not entirely in jest, Georgia Charter Schools Association President Tony Roberts welcomed some 4,000 conference goers to “Georgia where anyone can grow up to be a state Supreme Court justice even if you cannot read the state Constitution.”

President Bill Clinton

Charter school educators have come from across the nation to discuss alternative authorization, digital learning applications, crisis message management, how to start and fund schools, learning accountability and literally dozens of other educationally relevant topics.

During a 45-minute address former President Bill Clinton told charter educators to “put our country back in the future business” after accepting the NAPCS inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award.  Clinton described the current “food fight” in most contemporary political dialogue.  Click here for additional coverage of the former President’s address.

Tuesday’s opening session included two of the charter schools world genuine superstars, New York City educator Eva Moskowitz and Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker.

“I understood a long time ago that schools and politics are inextricably linked,” said Moskowitz who opened the first Harlem Success Academy five years ago in New York City.  “Our schools are knocking the ball out of the park which now means we are considered a threat, not only to public schools, but to the political establishment.”

Eva Moskowitz, Harlem Success Academy

The Harlem Success Academy story was chronicled in two charter school movement films, “The Lottery” and “Waiting for Superman.”  Moskowitz encountered stiff opposition from the New York City teachers union and also some community groups.  Two years ago the New York Times cited Harlem Success Academy as #1 in math statewide among all 3,500 public schools.  Six more Success Academies have followed in just five years, with plans to open 40 more.

“We are tasked with building a better mousetrap, introducing innovation to a sector that has long resisted it,” Moskowitz said. “I believe we are on the cusp of a golden era in education.  I raise the question, what is possible for our children?  I don’t know but it is our job to find out.  We must innovate every day.  We must resist the temptation to do things the same way they have always been done and we must question our own perception of what is possible.”

Newark Mayor Cory Booker is well known for creating a partnership with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg who contributed $100 million to improve Newark student success and champion great teachers.  Booker is energy unleashed; his magnetism compels attention.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker

“We are in the most important fight for justice in generations,” Booker said.  “Audacity, audacity, always audacity.  We have underestimated the profound genius, the ability of our children.  We have become comfortable with failure and it is time for a wake-up call.  We are here to disturb the comfortable.  We were not born for mediocrity.  We were born to stand out.”

Booker issued fair warning to underperforming schools:  “We cannot accept mediocrity or failure in the charter movement.  I don’t care how a school came into existence.  I distinguish between schools of excellence, and I distinguish between schools that suck.  If that school happens to be a charter school then that school should either improve or move out of the way and let somebody else do the job.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman will speak Wednesday.  Duncan’s address will be by satellite from Washington.  The conference ends Thursday with a rally at the State Capitol, across from the Supreme Court.  Click here to learn more about the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Clinton Tells Charter Educators: Put America Back in the Future Business

Mike Klein

Former President Bill Clinton challenged charter school educators to “put our country back in the future business” during his keynote address Tuesday morning that opened the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference in Atlanta.

“People look to you to keep America changing for the better,” Clinton said toward the end of his nearly 45-minute address. “Too many people have given up on us and it looks like a food fight half the time in Washington and across the country because we’ve forgotten that evidence, experience and the aspirations of everyday people tells us what works.

“This is not about ideology.  It’s not about theology.  It’s about what we can do to give our kids a better tomorrow by putting our country back in the future business. Charter schools showed we can put our schools in the future business.  Now we have to do what is clearly called upon to grow and expand charter schools and have that idea infect every other part of our lives.”

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools honored Clinton with its inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award.  Public charter schools nationwide grew from one when he Clinton entered the White House to 2,000 after eight years.  His administration also established a $256 million grant fund to benefit charter schools.  Today two million students attend 5,277 public charter schools, which are 5% of all public schools nationwide.

Former President Bill Clinton

The former President’s address made 4,000 attendees half an hour late for lunch as he waded through historical data about improvements to Arkansas public schools while he was governor, cost issues associated with Medicare, why cholera has spread across Haiti, his initiatives to put millions of Americans back to work and other subjects.

Clinton discussed several of his Foundation initiatives, including putting Americans back to work retrofitting schools and public buildings for energy conservation and his Alliance for a Healthier Generation which combats childhood obesity.  The 42nd President also encouraged charter educators to have their students take advantage of the reworked federal student loan program.

“The real challenge for America is to get back into business,” Clinton reiterated.  “The government should be no more immune from change than the private sector.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Clinton at Charters Conference; Deal Meets With Gates Foundation Today

Mike Klein

Good morning from the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference at the World Congress Center in Atlanta.  Former President Bill Clinton will deliver the morning keynote address to some 4,000 conference attendees.  The 42nd President pushed charter schools development during his eight-year administration, increasing them from virtually none to more than 2,000.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation has learned Governor Nathan Deal, state schools Superintendent John Barge, legislators and several influential business leaders will meet with a representative from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation today to discuss Georgia education reform and potentially, financial assistance for the former state commission charter schools.

Topic Number One in Georgia is the fallout from last month’s state Supreme Court decision that overturned the Georgia Charter Schools Commission.  The state is determining how many of 16 state commission schools can re-open in August, serving about 15,600 students.  Two sources have said it is unlikely that all 16 commission-approved schools will re-open in August.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has a significant education footprint, noting on its website, “The foundation has set an ambitious goal in K-12 education: to graduate all students college-ready. Currently, only a third of students graduate on-time with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed beyond high school.  Together with our partners, we are working to provide all students—especially low-income and minority students—with the opportunity to realize their full potential.”

Mike Klein Online and the GPPF Forum will update today and Wednesday from the Charter Schools Conference.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bill Clinton to Address Charter Schools Conference Tuesday in Atlanta

Mike Klein

Former President Bill Clinton will headline Tuesday’s opening session of the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference in Georgia where the state has become a national battleground over alternative authorization of public charter schools.  The 42nd President will receive the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award and deliver an acceptance speech to 4,000 attendees.

It is entirely coincidental that the year’s biggest annual charter schools conference is being hosted in Atlanta about one mile from the state Supreme Court.  Last month a one-vote majority of the state high Court’s seven justices declared that the state Charter Schools Commission is unconstitutional, ending a three-year experiment with alternative authorization.

Implications from the Georgia Supreme Court decision and the path forward will be discussed Tuesday afternoon during a conference session in the Sidney Marcus Auditorium.  Scheduled panelists include Georgia House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones who was the chief sponsor of 2008 legislation that created the state Charter Schools Commission.

Speaking off-the-record, two sources who are familiar with behind the scenes events said the combination of new charters with acceptable funding will probably not happen for some schools that received 2011– 2012 year approval from the state Charter Schools Commission.  Sixteen schools that planned to enroll as many as 16,000 students were affected by the Court’s opinion.

Former President Bill Clinton

Georgia Cyber Academy and its brick-and-mortar cousin Odyssey School received state board of education charters on June 9.  DeKalb County offered one-year temporary charters to The Museum School of Avondale Estates and Peachtree Hope Charter School.  Ivy Preparatory Academy turned down a Gwinnett County charter because of unequal funding.  The state board is expected to vote next Tuesday on charter applications from any schools that still want one.

Thousands have traveled to stifling hot and humid Atlanta for the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference at the Georgia World Congress Center.  Former President Clinton will be honored for kick starting the public charter schools movement.  The number of public charter schools grew from one prior to his 1992 election to more than 2,000 during his Presidency.

Tuesday morning’s general session will include musical performances by eighth grader Mariana Guzman from Ivy Prep Academy in Georgia and Pride Percussion ensemble which represents Pine Lake Preparatory, the largest charter school in North Carolina.  Other Tuesday speakers are Success Charter Network founder Eva Moskowitz and Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will appear by teleconference Wednesday. This year Georgia will receive the first of four $100 million annual Race to the Top grants from the U.S. DOE which approved Georgia in part because of leadership in the charter schools movement.

Children’s Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman will also speak Wednesday and the Junior Academy Dance Ensemble of Atlanta’s Drew Charter School will perform.  The conference will conclude with a rally Thursday morning at the State Capitol.

Click here to learn more about the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 20, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Will Test Telephone Self-Reporting for Low-Risk Adult Parolees

Mike Klein

Georgia will test a new model that could result in more effective supervision of high-risk parolees because less time would be required for low-risk parolees.  In July the state will begin a three-month telephone reporting pilot project and the initiative could be expanded statewide.

“The parolee population is increasing,” said Jay Lacienski, director of field operations at the state Board of Pardons and Parole.  “When you have an ever increasing (parolee) population and a stable parole officer population, you better figure out how to handle that.”

Georgia’s pilot project will move 1,300 low-risk parolees into a voice recognition system developed by a Georgia-based outside contractor.  Face-to-face visits with a parole officer will be replaced by telephone reporting.  About one-third of the state’s 22,500 parolees are considered low-risk.

The state parolee population is up 10% or 2,200 over ten years.  But largely due to budget-related attrition, the number of parole officers is down 10% (313 to 286) over five years and caseloads have risen 20% (66 to 78) during the same period.  “What we aim to do is to remove about 30% of the work on the low risk side and put it onto the high risk side,” Lacienski said.

Training sessions begin this week for parole staff from seven locations statewide: Albany, Augusta, Carrollton, DeKalb, Monroe, Savannah and Waycross.  “We want to see how it works in locations in every region of the state,” Lacienski said. “They have enough offenders in those cities or districts to make a difference in the workload.”

This three-month experiment is not directly connected to the state’s new Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform initiative but it represents an emphasis on different approaches that could be evident when the Council reports to Governor Nathan Deal in November.  Among the Council’s primary tasks is to consider alternatives to incarceration for non–violent offenders.

Voice recognition is similar to fingerprint science.  Each person has unique fingerprints and each person has a unique voice signature.  Voice recognition was developed after World War II to assist military intelligence.  Law enforcement began to integrate voice recognition in the late 1960s.  U.S. intelligence used voice recognition to track and monitor Osama bin Laden.

Georgia will test the voice recognition system developed by Atlanta-based AnyTrax which was formerly known as roboCUFF.  The 10-year-old company has managed automated curfew and parole telephone reporting for law enforcement clients in 45 states, including Cobb and Hall counties here in Georgia, but this will be the company’s first opportunity with the state.

“We’re a software company.  Our focus is helping probation and parole agencies save time and effort,” said AnyTrax president Eric Tumperi.  “We replace work (that is) mostly menial and administrative low-value tasks with automation so they can devote their time to higher value tasks.”  The company currently monitors about 60,000 parolees per year in several states.

Here’s how it will work.  Candidates for voice recognition reporting will already have at least six months back in the community.  They must have a job, a stable residence, and no arrests or positive drug screens during their parole period.  Low risk parolees who are accepted into the program will call an AnyTrax number to record voice samples.

Then they will contact AnyTrax monthly or as required by state Pardons and Parole.  They will answer customized questions such as, are you still living in the same place; are you still working in the same place; have you had any contact with the law?   Parolees will pay to participate, $7 per month, which they may see as a better option than face-to-face reporting once per month.

“There will be no (parole officer) checking on the job, no checking on the house,” said Lacienski of state Pardons and Parole.  “We will trust them to call in.”  If they don’t, AnyTrax will send an automated reminder. If they still do not respond, the company will notify Pardons and Parole.

Virginia’s Department of Corrections was the first AnyTrax voice recognition parole client.  “We actually have increased our contact with the offenders,” said Virginia Corrections deputy administrator Richard Crossen.  Virginia’s four-year-old program tracks about 6,500 persons.

Crossen said the impact is less about budget considerations and more about workforce reallocation; “Low risk offenders are seen less frequently but their information changes and we were looking for a way to enhance reporting information.” Crossen said Virginia Corrections would like to expand the use of voice recognition technology.  “We are very satisfied.”

Georgia spends $1 billion per year on adult corrections, including prisons and parole.  It has the nation’s ninth largest total population with 9.68 million residents but the fourth largest inmate population.  One-in-13 adult Georgians is under corrections system jurisdiction, the worst rate in the nation.  The state has 60,000 adults incarcerated in state facilities and 160,000 on probation or parole.

“Recidivism is high, low risk (parolees) are being treated the same as high risk offenders and (parole) officers are being asked to do too much,” said Tumperi of AnyTrax.   “Agencies are truly looking at ways to transform their workloads, which is an exciting thing to see, government agencies being proactive, progressive (and) strategic.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 20, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Probationers Could be Picking and Packing Down on the Farm

Mike Klein

Georgia is ready to put unemployed probationers to work picking and packing crops.

Governor Nathan Deal announced state agriculture, corrections and labor officials will combine efforts to identify unemployed probationers who can work on farms that are trying to harvest crops quickly, especially in South Georgia where blistering 100-degee heat accelerated the growing cycle.

Agriculture commissioner Gary Black said preliminary coordination began last week and small numbers of probationers “could be on the farm as early as this week.  This is a free market suggestion,” Black said.  “It won’t work for everybody and not every producer would want it, but what if it does work for some?  We owe it to the producers and the taxpayers to take a look.”

State agriculture officials estimate Georgia farmers need about 11,000 manual laborers right now to replace missing migrant workers.  Some blame the labor shortage on one of the nation’s strictest anti-illegal immigrant laws that was enacted this spring by the Legislature.

“The agriculture industry is the number one economic engine in Georgia and it is my sincere hope to find viable and law abiding solutions to the current problem our farmers face,” Deal said. The governor’s office estimated 2,000 probationers could work on southwest Georgia farms.

Agriculture commissioner Black said, “One way or another (these jobs) are going to be pretty hot. The jobs that were reported to us, they certainly represented harvesting and packing.”  This year the state labor department has tracked 14,918 open agricultural jobs, but just 1,756 hires.

Agriculture is the state’s $69 billion per year cash cow (no apology for the pun!).  Georgia ranks between first and tenth nationally in 22 products, including first in broiler chickens, peanuts and pecans, second in cotton and onions, third in peppers and cantaloupes, and fourth in peaches.

Sustaining that level of agricultural production requires thousands of seasonal workers, but many were apparently intimidated by Georgia House Bill 87.  Arizona, Georgia and Alabama have enacted anti-illegal immigrant legislation as a rebuke to Washington’s failure to reform.

“Those who claim this bill will have a negative financial impact on Georgia completely ignore the billions of dollars Georgians have spent on our schools, our hospitals, our courtrooms and our jails because of people who are in our state illegally,” Deal said when he signed the legislation last month.  “Illegal immigration is a complex and troublesome issue, and no state alone can fix it.  We will continue to have a broken system until we have a federal solution.  In the meantime, states must act to defend the taxpayers.”

The Georgia Agribusiness Council lobbied against House Bill 87, and the Council was quick to survey industry leaders when it appeared there would be a labor shortage.  Council President Bryan Tolar told the Foundation that the industry needs 40,000-to-45,000 workers, “but not all at one time because crops mature at different points during the growing season.”

Georgia is approaching the end of the Vidalia onion and blueberry seasons.  Blackberries, sweet corn, watermelon and cantaloupe are becoming mature now.  Later this summer farmers will harvest bell peppers, cucumbers and squash.  Then this fall, it will be peanuts and cotton.

The state also ranks seventh nationally in eggs and 25th in milk production.  “Poultry will be fine,” Tolar said, largely because of automation.  “Folks who process the birds aren’t seeing a mass exodus.  The dairy industry is very concerned.   Those are year-round jobs.  The (dairy cow) has to be milked every day.”

Tolar said Georgia farms have plenty of experience with employees who crossed over the line into the corrections system.  “It is not about your background.   Are you able to work?  Are you willing to do the work?  Do you have the papers that say you are legally here to do the work?”

Nobody said this Tuesday, but if this new idea succeeds, Georgia might be onto something that could help ease misery being felt every day by the state’s one-quarter million long-term unemployed.  A successful agriculture industry experiment could lead to other innovative ideas.

“We’ve got to seek creative solutions,” Black said about putting probationers to work on farms, “but the federal government has to act on streamlining a guest worker program that is applicable to all producers.  That’s got to happen. We cannot let up on our call for federal officials to act.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 14, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Supreme Court Rejects Charter Schools Reconsideration Motion

Mike Klein

The Georgia Supreme Court has served the future of former state commission charter schools over the net and back into the Legislature’s court.  This morning the Court announced that it will not review last month’s decision that overturned the three-year-old state commission.

“The majority of the Georgia Supreme Court has just found 16,000 innocent children in Georgia guilty of choosing a better education,” said Georgia Charter Schools Association chief executive officer Tony Roberts.  “And even worse, the justices have sentenced them to failing or inadequate schools.”

This morning’s announcement comes exactly one week before Atlanta hosts the four-day-long National Charters Schools annual conference.  Former President Bill Clinton will keynote the Tuesday session and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is scheduled on Wednesday.

Attorney General Sam Olens petitioned the Supreme Court to reconsider its May 16 decision, but in a single sentence released Monday the Court said, “Upon consideration of the motion for reconsideration in this case, it is ordered that it be hereby denied.”  No other reason was given.  The motion was considered a long shot because the Court seldom grants reconsideration.

Sixteen brick-and-mortar and online learning schools have scrambled to secure new local or state special school charters, along with funding, since the Supreme Court decision four weeks ago today.  The Court ruled the state could not grant commission charters to schools that had already had been turned down by local boards of education.

Last week the state Board of Education approved special school charters for Odyssey School in Newnan, and for Georgia Cyber Academy which expects to enroll 8,500 online learners this fall. Several schools have applied to districts for temporary local charters.  The state board is expected to meet again this month to consider charters for schools that still need them.

The next step likely returns this question to the Legislature.

Governor Nathan Deal’s office, along with House and Senate education committee members, have begun work to place a constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot that would seek permission for the state to authorize and fund charter schools.  The General Assembly would most likely consider this question next January.

All Georgia charter schools are public schools.  The former commission schools expected to enroll 16,000 of the state’s 77,000 total charter schools students when class resumes in August.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 13, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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